Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Helping in Haiti

180px-CVN-70_Seal The USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered supercarrier, steamed over to Haiti last week. It is providing considerable help:

The Vinson had arrived to Haiti loaded with thousands of bottles of water and energy drinks, 8,000 sheets and hundreds of camp beds.

And:

It also brought equipment to purify 100,00 gallons of water a day, by reverse osmosis.

(Our friends over at Pro-Nuclear Democrats have an excellent post about how it does the desalination.)

And, even better:

Since its arrival Friday, the USS Carl Vinson has treated 10 patients -- three Americans and seven Haitians.

One patient, a 12-year-old Haitian girl, even managed to receive brain surgery aboard, carried out by American neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, who was in Port-au-Prince to report on the humanitarian catastrophe.

Now, the USS Carl Vinson apparently cannot open itself as a hospital boat – it’s mission here is to deliver goods - but it’s doing what it can.

Uss_carl_vinson_cvn-70 The USS Carl Vinson runs on Two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors and can go about three million miles before refueling. But really, even with the obvious connection, who cares? It’s the good it can do that matters here.

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Thomas_MalthusWe’ve rarely – well, okay, never – seen nuclear energy tied to Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). Malthus probably doesn’t have the popular cachet he enjoyed in the 70s, when concerns about overpopulation – which he, in a potted summary, thought was inevitable in light of a striving toward egalitarianism and would result in disaster, as Earth’s resources could not support out-of-control population growth. You can read his book on population here.

In movies, these ideas led to population-control scenarios (Logan’s Run (1976) and ZPG (1970) are two) and, of course, the classic people-as-food story, Soylent Green (1973), put a nice capper on the pop corruption of Malthus’ ideas.

Writers Don Peterson and Bill Stratton, both of the the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Stratton is retired), move from the usual Malthusian construction – food will run out – to energy – fossil fuels are running out.

Without some curb [on carbon emissions], Malthus’ prediction finally is slated to come true sometime after 2050. To dodge the prediction again, only advanced nuclear technology is capable of providing the enormous and continually expanding amount of energy needed in time to cushion the impact of population growth and avoid economic collapse.

We’re always extremely dubious when anything is presented as a hedge – even a panacea – against future disaster, especially when they answer to the worries of the day. We’re not to 2020 yet – the year of Soylent Green – but we haven’t started eating people yet either. (We’d also hesitate to give Malthus 250 years lead time on any prediction he may have made.)

The article doesn’t really go as far with its conceit as it could – which is to the good – and contains a lot of interesting information. There’s even a shout-out to our old friend thorium.

Thorium – about twice as abundant as uranium in the earth’s crust – also can be used to fuel breeder reactors different from current designs. Using all the uranium and thorium is the only approach that guarantees vastly increased, reliable, energy availability well into the next millennium.

Worth a read – even if you don’t believe you’ll float toward a giant bug zapper chanting “Renew” at age 30.

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